Design is the difference between this and a form that is easy to analyze and understand.
Nature.com's article "Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye" reports that users can make judgments about a Web site in just 50 milliseconds.
The article states:
Pay close attention to that last sentence. It says, basically, that users maintain similar impressions about the visual appeal of a site in the long term to those made within the first 50 milliseconds. The first impression is solid and incredibly important.
Does this mean that users actually judge a site this quickly? Do the first 50 milliseconds make so much of an impression that users actually decide if the site is appealing?
In a word: yes.
The first 50 milliseconds is not enough time to determine whether the information on a site is useful, where on the landing page to find information, or learn anything about the site. It's a super-fast first impression.
All I could absorb in a 50-millisecond test was the background color, the fact that there was an image on the page, and that content appeared to be laid out in columns. I couldn't discern the subject of the photo, the content of the columns, the company name or logo, or anything meaningful. This hyper-speed glance did not show me whether the site was going to be meaningful for me or not, but it did give me enough time to know it wasn't one of those obnoxious, brightly-colored sites generated by Microsoft Word about someone's cat. This is useful information, since it's highly unlikely I'll ever need information from such a site, so it turns out that 50 milliseconds was indeed enough to tell me the site might contain something useful and was at least well-designed enough that I might be able to find what I needed.
At 500 milliseconds, elements were much more discernable. I had enough time to recognize that the photo was of a woman with a baby, there were three columns on the page, there was a text field on the left (probably a Search box), and that there were some icons on the right. It was still not enough for me to decide if I was going to leave the site or stay and try to find the information I needed, but it was definitely enough to ascertain I was staring at a well-designed site that I could probably trust to contain valuable information.
Uniformity, visual hierarchy, structure, flow, meaning, and consistency are vital tools in the job of making a great first impression, because these things allow a user to analyze pages quickly and make sense of them. Consistent and uniform design also allows users to rely on what's known as "spatial memory" (more on this later in this chapter).
All these things contribute to a simple, obvious design. One that helps users form a mental model which enables them to be productive without having to think about how an application works.
For example, users shouldn't need to determine (even subconsciously) whether one large object on a page is more important than another. Even tiny inconsistencies cause small blips in the brain that are enough to throw off a user's workflow and interrupt an otherwise calm and productive state of mind. Any time we can maintain consistency to eliminate these interruptions, we give the user another reason to trust our applications, and we create a way to leverage irregularities to create meaning and importance (more on this later on this chapter).
The ability to design these qualities is both the result of everything talked about in this book so far and a necessary ingredient for an obvious design.
(You can read Nature.com's article at www.nature.com/news/2006/060109/full/060109-13.html, but unfortunately, you must be a Premium Plus subscriber to access the information.)